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Royale’ Folds On DVD

Brian Doxtader and Rama Gottumukkala | Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Rama: His arsenal includes jet packs and Aston Martins, but James Bond’s only essential weapon is his license to kill. Does it ever expire? Not likely, at this rate, since it has helped Her Majesty’s most lethal civil servant rack up a kill count on par with a small nation.

Surprisingly, it’s taken 46 years and 20 movies for us to finally see what Bond has to do to earn his mighty gift. It’s not pretty, and the gritty prologue to “Casino Royale” makes sure we’ll never forget his first two kills.

On a snowy night in Prague, Bond sits cloaked in shadow, waiting for his second victim to walk through the door. When he does, a remarkably blunt conversation takes place.

“How did he die?” asks Dryden, a high-ranking British official selling trade secrets.

The cold, icy stare from Daniel Craig’s Bond tells us exactly what to expect from the latest man to wear the 007 mantle.

“Your contact? Not well,” he says curtly before eliminating Dryden.

With this latest film, director Martin Campbell follows up the success he had with 1995’s “GoldenEye” – the last great 007 adventure – by introducing us to the best Bond since Sean Connery left the franchise. Craig’s unyielding intensity and physical prowess are on constant display here. Not coincidentally, “Royale” is also blessed with a charismatic and intelligent (two traits that have been in short supply with recent 007 damsels) Bond girl in Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), an imposing villain with Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) and the strongest plot since Pierce Brosnan’s first outing.

With all these elements working in unison, “Casino Royale” will be remembered as the best action film of 2006, easily outstripping the vacuous (but entertaining) “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” and the dull (but heartfelt) “Superman Returns.”

Sadly, “Royale” is the latest in a series of high-profile releases with sparse special features for truly memorable movies. Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” and Christopher Nolan’s “The Prestige” both offered average DVDs in their recent releases. Although it’s nice to revisit these films so soon after their theatrical debut – supported by strong word of mouth and great critical and popular acclaim, “Casino Royale” lingered in theaters until late December – the DVD debut of “Royale” is a disappointing one.

It comes on a two-disc set labeled as a “special edition,” but there’s very little to celebrate with this release. The first disc houses the movie and little else. Fortunately, the DVD sports a sharp, vivid video transfer and a booming soundtrack to complement the many impressive set pieces in the film.

But while Campbell and Bond producer Michael G. Wilson recorded a stellar, always entertaining commentary track for “GoldenEye,” they saw no need – or weren’t allowed – to reprise their efforts here. Given the wealth of material to talk about with this film, it’s a shame that Sony Pictures didn’t seek out another commentary from the pair.

The second disc is not much better, offering only four bonus features that add up to 90 minutes of footage. Of the three documentaries, “Becoming Bond” is the most interesting one. The 26-minute feature has a misleading title as this feature covers more ground than just the selection of Craig for the role. It’s an entertaining glimpse into the project’s evolution but feels much shorter than its nearly half-hour running time.

The strongest detriment to this “Royale” DVD is that it falls far short of the exhaustive releases that the rest of Craig’s counterparts have received. Even “Die Another Day,” the disastrous 2002 Brosnan film, has hours of material on its second disc, perhaps undeservingly.

Sony Pictures recently reissued all 20 former Bond films on DVD under the banner of “Ultimate Editions.” These comprehensive and handsomely packaged releases have added luster to an already impressive Bond legacy that stretches from Connery to Craig.

Craig himself did his part with “Royale,” which is easily the finest Bond film in years, perhaps even decades, largely due to his efforts. After acquiring MGM – the company that nourished 007 all these years – it’s a shame that Sony hasn’t honored Craig and “Royale” with the lavish treatment it so richly deserves.

Brian: “Casino Royale” was one of the biggest hits of 2006, both critically and commercially. It revitalized the Bond franchise and brought a new face to the character in the form of Daniel Craig, whose inspired turn promises to push the series in the right direction. Arriving on DVD in a two-disc special edition, “Casino Royale” will surely be a hit on home video, though the set itself leaves much to be desired.

The film follows Bond, a newly minted 00-agent, who is assigned to compete in a high stakes poker game against the French agent Le Chiffre who is funding terrorists. Along the way, he is introduced to Vesper Lynd , an accountant who introduces herself as “the money.”

Appropriately enough, “Casino Royale” is based on the first Bond novel, written by British author Ian Fleming. It adheres more closely to its source material in both tone and characterization than any Bond film since “From Russia With Love,” which is a welcome development. Bond is still suave and charismatic, but Craig inflects the character with an edginess and aloofness that suggests deep-rooted psychological problems – these problems manifest themselves in the form of violence, to which Bond seems to take a rather casual approach.

A lot of the trademarks of the franchise – Q, Moneypenny, etc. – are MIA, but they aren’t really missed all that much. Craig has such commanding presence as Bond that he controls the film without needing much in the way of support. The support he does get, however, is quite good, especially from the always-game Judi Dench, who reprises her role as M, Bond’s superior.

Bond films have a tendency to overstay their welcome, with bloated, excessive running times and an action sequence or two too many. A previous Observer review of the theatrical release noted that “Casino Royale” is also too long. But that comment should be rescinded. While the film is indeed quite long (144 minutes), it’s also extremely engaging even in its quietest moments, and the pacing rarely flags.

“Casino Royale” comes to DVD in a widescreen two-disc special edition. There is also a fullscreen edition, which is essentially worthless, since the film makes full use of its long aspect ratio. The picture quality is quite good, with deep and accurate colors. The sound comes in a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix, which is full and immersive – this is a film that has a complex sound mix, and the audio comes through quite nicely.

The special features are sparse – there are three documentaries, only two of which are directly related to “Casino Royale.” The first is a 26- minute look at the casting of Daniel Craig as Bond, which compares the actor to previous incarnations. The second is a 23-minute feature on the stunts and how they were performed. Finally, there’s a 50-minute documentary on the Bond girls that has previously aired on AMC.

It’s unfortunate that “Casino Royale” didn’t get a classier release – the two-disc edition feels pretty standard, with none of the typical bells and whistles often associated with a big-time release. It’s likely that a better release is somewhere down the road, perhaps when the next Bond film comes out.

Still, it’s difficult not to recommend “Casino Royale” on DVD, simply because it’s such a great movie. As a revitalizing next step in the Bond evolution, it stands as one of the great films in the franchise – no small feat considering the series’ longevity.